Good morning ladies and gentlemen. Dean thank you very much for your warm introduction. Let me also acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we are meeting this morning, and by paying my respects to their elders past and present and emerging.
To the very many distinguished guests who are here today: members of the diplomatic corps, senators and members of the Parliament, distinguished guests.
Everyone has a choice about how they spend their time. Your choice to be here this morning speaks volumes to the commitment that you make to this very important next step in Australia’s Strategy for the Abolition of the Death Penalty. So I thank you all very much for your time.
I want to acknowledge my friend and colleague Julie Bishop for her leadership in bringing Australia and us to this point, and I thank her very much for being here as well.
And I thank Senator Dean Smith for his introduction, and also, Chris Hayes, for the important work that they both do, as co-chairs of the Parliamentary Group Against the Death Penalty. Their leadership is very important. Dean and Chris – thank you very much for that.
I’d acknowledge one of our other guests, Julian McMahon, the President of Reprieve Australia. Julian and his organisation are one of our nation’s strongest advocates for the global abolition of the death penalty and they have played a key role in the development of our national strategy.
I also want to extend my acknowledgement and my thanks to all the other civil society groups, who’ve worked so closely with us to create this strategy. Your efforts, your advice have been invaluable in bringing us to this point.
I am very proud to have the role of launching our whole-of-Government strategy for the abolition of the death penalty here today. It is a timely occasion. Just last Wednesday we marked world international day against the death penalty, a reminder of the progress that we have made, but also a reminder of the further work that needs to be done to achieve global abolition.
I am pleased to note that just last week on Wednesday Malaysia announced that it will abolish the death penalty. Legislation is scheduled for introduction to Malaysia’s parliament in their next sitting period. Australia also strongly welcomes the Malaysian government’s indication that it will place an immediate moratorium on carrying out the death penalty. This is important progress, and it is encouraging to all of us.
The strategy that we are launching here today, the first of its kind in Australia, will see our nation work closely with our partners across the world to protect and promote our shared human rights. The message that the strategy sends is clear and it is unequivocal: Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, for all people. We are committed to its universal abolition and we will pursue this through all fora.
The new strategy provides a comprehensive and cohesive framework for the Australian government to enhance our efforts to be a global leader to end the use of the death penalty world-wide.
Our support for this vision is built on four pillars.
Firstly, the death penalty is irrevocable and no legal system is free of error.
If the convicted is later found to be innocent, that is a miscarriage of justice that cannot be rectified.
Secondly, it removes any possibility of rehabilitation for the convicted individual.
It brutalises our societies, degrades our citizens, and is an affront to our shared human dignity.
Thirdly, the death penalty is no more an effective deterrent than long-term or life imprisonment.
There is no convincing evidence to suggest that there is any so-called benefit accrued from its application or existence.
And finally it is unfair.
The death penalty is used disproportionately against the most vulnerable members of society, at times as a political tool, with the poor, minority groups, and people with intellectual or mental disabilities overrepresented in its application.
Australia’s stance is part of a movement that is progressing us towards a world where the death penalty is relegated to history.
In the 50 years since Australia’s last execution, 95 countries have completely abolished the death penalty.
This is significant progress but we still have a lot of work to do.
Our national strategy directs Australia’s advocacy, ensuring we maintain momentum towards our global vision.
We will advocate in a constructive, pragmatic manner which respects the cultural and social contexts of all retentionist states around the world, especially in our own region, the Indo-Pacific.
Abolition is a gradual process, and Australia’s diplomatic network has been consistent and diligent in advocating our position.
For some nations, complete abolition of the death penalty is within reach, for others, the next step may be to seek a reduction in its application, or perhaps simply ensure it is applied humanely.
We recognise that this journey is a difficult one.
But all steps towards abolition, large or small, take us towards a more civil and humane world.
Last month in a meeting at the United Nations in New York, I launched this strategy on the international stage at the First Ministerial Meeting of the Global Alliance to end trade in goods used for capital punishment and torture. Australia is one of 60 states to have joined this Alliance, which is a practical initiative designed to prevent trade in goods and instruments purposely and commonly used in the application of torture and the death penalty.
Australia’s approach, whether through our bilateral relationships or multilateral fora, will be to engage whenever possible with countries that permit the death penalty, and advocate for these steps towards abolition.
Our diplomatic network will create clear and articulated plans for engaging with non-abolitionist states, implementing our strategy around the world.
As part of our public diplomacy agenda, many of our diplomatic missions marked World Day Against the Death Penalty last week.
We will foster public understanding of Australia’s position and our reasons, and we will collaborate and work closely with other abolitionist nations to ensure our message is heard at all levels and across all states.
Starting in our own federal parliament is a very good first step for the promotion of our strategy.
The abolition of the death penalty is an important part of Australia’s human rights advocacy, a pillar of our human rights advocacy.
This year Australia proudly began its term as a member of the UN Human Rights Council.
Part of our platform for the election was a strong commitment to the global abolition of the death penalty.
We are encouraging all nations to become party to the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR – the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Those states party to the Second Optional Protocol must abolish the death penalty in their jurisdiction.
Building the membership of this Protocol is important if we are to maintain the global momentum towards a world of complete abolition across all states and peoples.
As part of our Human Rights Council membership we will continue to promote both accession and adherence to the existing international laws central to the abolition of the death penalty.
We will continue to monitor and analyse developments across the world, informing all states of the progress being made.
We will also contribute to and co-sponsor, where relevant, activities through multilateral fora which drive us along the path of global abolition.
Our co-sponsorship of the biennial anti-death penalty resolutions at the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council is just a part of our work to implement these aims.
This strategy will be a true national effort, with support from across the parliament here in Canberra, as Dean has alluded to, but also in civil society.
Growing and embracing our relationships with non-government organisations will be vital to ensuring our strategy’s success.
Civil society informed the strategy, and I look forward to deepening that engagement as we seek to implement what is a strongly shared vision.
To begin this process, Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will also establish a consultative group on the death penalty, which will include Australian-based civil society organisations.
This group will meet on the margins of the Department’s annual NGO Human Rights Forum, where we will:
- share advocacy priorities,
- update our NGO partners on the state of our implementation,
- coordinate responses and
- explore opportunities for joint public diplomacy actions.
Together this will bolster, it will inform, it will improve our decision making, and ensure that our strategy remains relevant and robust into the future.
I understand members of civil society here this morning are going to meet with the Parliamentarians Against the Death Penalty group later this afternoon here in Parliament to reflect on how we can work together to implement the Strategy. And again Dean and Chris I thank you very much for that initiative.
The true strength of our strategy however, comes from its enduring and persistent nature.
Our resolute opposition to the death penalty is a core value not just to this government and this parliament, but also to the Australian people. Our successes in pursuing our objective of universal abolition are based on constructive dialogue, respect and mutual understanding.
They are the values which will ensure that we live in a better world, where the death penalty is no longer used.
Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen.
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